John Adams and Joe Burris have seen many unspeakable things
in their work with the North Carolina Baptist Men Rescue 24 team, and that’s
exactly what keeps them going.
During a state missions breakout session at Calvary
in Winston-Salem April 2, both men spoke
of the weight of their calling with the international search and rescue
organization. Adams, Rescue 24’s director, had just returned from Japan,
which was hit with a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami March 11. A month
later, a nuclear plant damaged by the twin disasters continues to dominate
“This is a call on us,” Adams told
the small group in attendance. “God has gifted us with special gifts, special
talents to be used in answering that call. So I’m praying that each and every
one of you will prayerfully consider using those gifts that you’ve been given
in this service, in this ministry, as we go out to be God’s hands and feet in
the world around us.”
Burris, who led the first of Rescue 24’s two meetings at the
missions conference, is 57 years old and retired as a state fire marshal. He is
currently the assistant chief of the fire and rescue service in Eastern Pines,
and he does emergency services training as well. There’s a lot on his plate to
be sure, but not so much that he’s unwilling to try to live up if at all
possible to Rescue 24’s goal of deploying to an international crises on 24
“I truly do believe I’ve been blessed,” Burris said. “You’ll
know if this is meant for you, and it’s not so subtle. It’s kind of like a
two-by-four hitting you upside the head.”
The international search and rescue team grew out of the
Christmas 2004 earthquake and tsunami that killed nearly a quarter of
a million people in Indonesia.
In alliance with Hungarian Baptist Aid, Adams and a few other volunteers took
part in a training session in Budapest
the following summer before going on their first deployment to an
earthquake-stricken portion of the Kashmir province
of Pakistan in October 2005.
Rescue 24 members also responded in the spring of 2008 to Bangkok,
Thailand, as the result
of a cyclone that struck nearby Myanmar.
Other team members headed to Manila, Philippines,
at the same time to assist in recovery operations following another typhoon.
The group deployed to Padang, the
capital city of Western Sumatra in Indonesia
in September 2009 and was one of the first relief agencies in Haiti
following its January 2010 earthquake.
Adams has been on each deployment,
despite serving as pastor of Salemburg Baptist since retiring from the Army in
1999. His participation would not have been possible without the cooperation of
his congregation and his wife, Carol, a long-time military wife used to her
husband being gone for extended periods of time with little or no warning.
“Fortunately, being at the church I am (at), the people and
the staff are all very supportive of this ministry,” said Adams, a graduate of
the United States Military
Academy at West Point.
“When the earthquake in Japan hit, I was trying to make calls to (members of
Rescue 24) to get them on board, but at the same time, I’m having parishioners
calling me, saying, ‘I’m praying for you,’ knowing that we were going to be
sending a team. The mindset of the people in that community is just
unbelievable in regards to missions and outreach.”
For Adams, serving as the leader of
Rescue 24 is his fulfillment of Acts 1:8. “We’re told to be His witness, and
we’re supposed to go into Jerusalem,
and the uttermost parts of the world,” Adams continued.
“I’ve been gifted and provided the opportunities at various times in my life to
do just that. In the military, I was given orders and told to execute a
mission. I’d go execute the mission. (Serving with Rescue 24) is an order, so I
go and do it.”
Having done fire and rescue training for the state fire
marshal’s office across the country and
internationally, Burris’ family is also used to his extensive travels.
Burris had another job lined up after he retired, but kept
it for only a couple of months. That allowed him to do what he’s doing now with
North Carolina Baptist Men. It worked out.
“Debbie Hilliard (a battalion fire chief for the town of Cary
and a charter member of Rescue 24) was the person that recruited me,” Burris
said. “I’d worked with Debbie for 20 years in the fire service. She kept
saying, ‘Joe, you need to come join us. Joe, you need to come join us.’ I told
her, ‘Debbie, I can’t. I work for a living.’ As I retired, I ran out of
excuses. I was blessed with a great career, and now I’m being given the chance
to give back. I really do consider it to be a blessing.”
It would be hard for a lot of people to comprehend the
tragic disasters to which Adams and Burris have responded. Yet in those
circumstances, Burris sees a chance to exercise the abilities that he has honed
for about four decades now.
“I have my own set of standards,” Burris said. “I’ll quote
(NFL Hall of Fame coach Vince) Lombardi — and
I won’t do a very good job of it — ‘In the pursuit of perfection, which you
will not often attain — you can often reach excellence.’ That’s what I’m after.
I’m trying to be the very best I can be.”
Referring to a young man who had attended the session,
Burris concluded, “If he was to become a member of this team, I would enjoy
bringing him along. That’s where I was at 40 years ago. I’ve been given
opportunities like that, and now I’m able to give that back.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Houston
is a writer living in Yadkinville.)
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